Centers for Disease Control Participant helps with the creation of more secure and effective public health data collection. Meet Victoria Li

Victoria Li had many inspirations for her career path, one being her personal experience with Hurricane Katrina. As she got older, conducted research with the Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI) and participated in Tulane’s AmeriCorps*VISTA program, creating a love for helping underprivileged communities. (Photo Credit: Victoria Li).

Victoria Li has had multiple influences in her life, most notably her Chinese immigrant parents and older sister. Her parents pursued careers as computer technicians and her sister minored in public health which led Li to study both public health and computer science. As she continued her studies at Tulane University, she ultimately decided to major in both and completed her degree in 2022.  

As these two disciplines are not often intersected in coursework, Li struggled with discovering a career path that applied both of her skill sets meaningfully until her sister recommended the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). This was an exciting discovery for Li as she had long admired the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and applied to the program despite her limited experience. Now, Li is part of the Surveillance, Information Management and Statistics Office (SIMSO) in the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases (DFWED) working closely with the National Surveillance Team (NST) of the Enteric Disease Epidemiology Branch (EDEB).

The CDC Research Participation Programs are educational and training programs designed to provide students, recent graduates and university faculty opportunities to participate in project-specific CDC research, current public health research and developmental activities.

To date, Li has been involved in two significant projects, the Free-Living Amoeba (FLA) modernization and serving as the primary point of contact for Pipeline Builder, a cloud-based platform that the CDC uses to collect, process and share data.

For the FLA modernization project, she assisted in creating a third version of the case report form (CRF) in the System for Enteric Disease Response, Investigation and Coordination (SEDRIC), a secure, cloud-based platform for foodborne and animal contact outbreak investigations, along with migrating all preexisting data from the previous versions.

“Since the previous iterations of the CRF and its data were completely separate, we created guides that mapped variables across the three versions, indicating which ones were the same, which ones were deprecated and which ones were completely new,” she said. “The new CRF tracks about 300 variables which follows more in line with information typically used by FLA epidemiologists and lab partners, lightening the burden of data collection on jurisdictions.”

After 11 months of development, the team launched the revamped FLA surveillance system in March of 2024 which allows jurisdictions to easily access their collected data.

As the primary point of contact for Pipeline Builder, Li has created user guides for future users. She has also worked with the Cholera and Other Vibrio Illness Surveillance (COVIS), Listeria, FLA, Backyard Poultry teams and multiple state partners to assist in data mapping and transforming using the tool. As the division encourages states to enter their own cases directly into their surveillance systems with hopes to eliminate miscommunication and loss of critical information, Li also assists in communicating with developers so the available options for data entry best align with the CRFs.

Lastly, Li helped the COVIS surveillance teams in writing and editing a Health Advisory Network (HAN) notice titled "Severe Vibrio vulnificus Infections in the United States Associated with Warming Coastal Waters” in late August of 2023.


Victoria Li stands beside her abstract poster presentation at the January 2024 Integrated Foodborne Outbreak Response Management (InFORM) Conference. In June of 2024, she will also present at the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) Conference. (Photo Credit: Victoria Li)

“The process was extremely intensive, with multiple levels of accelerated clearance and review, but the COVIS team was able to successfully publish this HAN before Labor Day weekend,” she said.

Li and her team’s research has many benefits for the science community and citizens. Through the modernizing current surveillance systems, the surveillance and outbreak response teams can allocate more time and resources towards analyzing existing data for trends and detecting potential foodborne and waterborne outbreaks and exposures at a faster pace.

“Early detection of outbreaks will enhance the response time of healthcare providers and public health officials, preventing countless individuals from falling ill,” she said. “By the end of my appointment, all current DFWED surveillance systems will hopefully be integrated into SEDRIC, which will allow subject matter experts to concentrate on enhancing and maintaining their respective systems.”

A typical day in Li’s appointment includes reviewing her to-do list for any important tasks that need to be completed. From there, she attends meetings to give updates on projects as well as touching base with her mentor to receive any help and give a progress update. To end, she continues working on any other projects alongside her teammates.

Li believes that the program has helped her gain valuable, hands-on experience that integrates the two fields that she loves. Additionally, she has developed many meaningful professional relationships her colleagues. Li is deeply appreciative of her mentors, Allison Miller and Lyndsay Bottichio, for their unwavering support and invaluable guidance.

“After completing my undergraduate degree, I was uncertain of what to do and considered continuing my education in graduate school as a default path,” she said. “Now, I recognize the importance of pursuing a higher degree with clear intent and purpose.”

When Li completes the program, she hopes to go back to school to pursue a master’s degree in public health data science with an interest in working to reduce disparities affecting marginalized communities, specifically, people of color and gender and sexual minorities.

The CDC Research Participation Program is managed by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) under an agreement between CDC and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.